COMPETITIVE pricing, loyal customers and stellar staff have helped fuel a local business to a turnover of £2million per year.

Situated in Ballinamallard, CB Fuels has kindled a reputation as a leading supplier of solid fuels in Fermanagh, with operations firing on all cylinders via a fleet of five lorries and eight full-time and part-time staff.

This year alone, the local business estimates that almost 4,000 tonnes of coal will be delivered.

And demand for other products – including gas, firewood, and fencing materials – continues to be strong, with horizons widened to include clients in England, Scotland, and Wales.

For any business, such exponential growth is impressive – and it is even more so considering that CB Fuels was founded just over four years ago.

The phrase 'humble beginnings' perhaps best describes the birth of this local business.

In November, 2019, founder Chris Beatty took to the road in his jeep and trailer, delivering coal around the locality.

At first, it proved to be a slow burner. However, the unlikely benefits of the pandemic, coupled with the introduction of husband, Lee Martin, as a business partner, ignited a flame that would see sustained and healthy growth.

"I've often said that coal is all I know," Mr. Beatty said. "I have been at coal for 25 years, working for an uncle since I was knee-high.

"In November, 2019, I took the plunge to go out on my own. I started delivering coal in an old jeep and trailer.

"It was nerve-wracking, and the first week I started, I only sold eight bags of coal! I remember saying to my father, 'What kind of bad move have I made?'," he added.

However, business began to pick up in early 2020, and the business began to grow.

But no-one – let alone two entrepreneurs from Ballinamallard – could predict that the Covid-19 pandemic would then plunge the world into chaos.

At the time, uncertainty was widespread within the business community – but it just so happened that Mr. Beatty’s business model would stand to benefit from global events.

"I don't like having to say it, but the pandemic helped put us on our feet," Mr. Beatty said.

"So many businesses suffered back then, but we were one of the lucky ones as we were classed as ‘key workers’, and we were able to work away.

"At the time, we couldn't keep up with demand for garden stuff. Everyone was in lockdown, and everyone was gardening. The pandemic gave us the lift we needed."

This unexpected boon from the lockdown helped to put the fledgling business in a strong position.

A loyal customer base was established, with clients impressed by keen pricing, friendly staff and an emphasis on customer service.

According to Mr. Beatty, first-year turnover equated to around £20,000, with 50 tonnes of coal delivered.

These initial figures have been exceeded year-on-year, with further growth forecast.

It's been quite a journey for the Ballinamallard-based entrepreneurs, who continue to operate from their busy depot in the town.

The pair enjoy the daily hustle and bustle, with Mr. Martin on the paperwork end, Mr. Beatty out in the yard, and their French Bulldog, Bella, Miniature Schnauzer, Toby, Jack Russel, Diego, Collie, Herbie and Rottweiler, Tyson, never far away.

And with the help of committed staff – including four full-time and four part-time employees – the pair work toward a shared goal of keeping their customers happy.

"If it wasn't for our customers, we wouldn't be here," Mr. Martin explained. "It's all about trying to do right by them, and if there's an issue, it's sorted then and there.

"Customer satisfaction is key. We have had people ring on Christmas Day because they ran out of gas for the turkey!

"We work with the customer, and do the best we can for them."

Of course, as with any new business, it hasn't all been plain sailing, and the pair admit there has been many a late night, headache and challenge over the years.

"Coal is a competitive market, and there's a lot of uncertainty out there," Mr. Beatty said.

"My advice to anyone starting out in business would be to grind your teeth for the first five years.

"Take nothing to heart, and you will start to see light at the end of the tunnel.

"No matter what is thrown at you, and the barriers, grind your teeth and try and see it through."

Mr. Martin offers similar advice. "There will be highs and lows, and you have to ensure you don't let it get to you.

“There will be barriers and roadblocks set up in front of you – it's just about keeping going and not giving up."

Looking to the future, C B Fuels is in a healthy place, with a recent turnover of over £2million. With an eye on the increasing use of renewable energy, the pair are busy planning for years to come.

"We are happy with the way things are at the moment, but we can't sit still," said Mr. Beatty.

Mr. Martin added: "The push for a Greener economy, with less reliance on fuels like coal, is something we will have to think about.

"You have to be resilient in business. You can't be resistant to change."

Going forward, they are also hopeful that a new website will continue to open up new opportunities and markets.

"I built a website myself about a year ago, and that's really helped the business grow," Mr. Martin.

"We now have clients much farther afield in the UK, including England, Scotland and Wales, and the Highlands and islands.

"Seeing how the business continues to grow is a great source of pride for us both."

With the continued support of the local community, the businessmen added that they are keen to give back in any way they can.

Over the past 12 months, CB Fuels has helped raise money for the likes of the Husky Salvation and Bright Eyes Animal Sanctuary, as well as local schools and GAA teams.

The business is also supportive of Fermanagh Fun Farm, and following the sad passing of Niamh King late last year, donated funds to help with burial and funeral costs.

“We try our best to support what's on our doorstep," the pair concluded. "It's important to give back."